By Beth Treffeisen
A new health code letter grading system is soon coming to food establishments in the city of Boston.
The new law that was passed at the Boston City Council’s August 24 meeting will require food establishments to start posting the letter grade that corresponds with health inspection by the Inspectional Services Department Health Division (ISD).
Currently, both restaurants and food trucks must comply with the Federal and State Food Codes and are subject to annual inspections to ensure compliance with the codes. The new rating system will be based off of an A, B and C grading system with anything lower closing the restaurant.
“The new letter grading system makes it visible to the public,” said Boston City Councilor Michael Flaherty at the city council meeting. “The program is to increase the health and safety and increase transparency in the city.”
City Councilor Tito Jackson voted against the measure stating concerns that the city is rushing the execution of it.
“Certain neighborhoods and communities could be adversely affected by this if not implemented correctly,” Jackson said. “The hospitably is such a huge part of this cities economy so that is why I will be voting against this.”
The posting of the letter grade will be required to be facing outward at eye-level on an exterior wall or window within five feet of the main entrance of the restaurant. It will be optional during the first year of implementation but than will become mandatory.
Commissioner William Christopher from the ISD explained that the health inspection will not change and will continue the current inspection and rating system that is already in place. Since there will be no change, there will be no cost to the city of Boston.
If a violation is found upon first inspection there is a 30-day window to correct the violation and will follow with a random follow-up second inspection. If a restaurant appeals for a third inspection they have to pay a fee to the city.
Christopher emphasized that the letter grading only relates to sanitary inspections and not the quality of food.
Jeff Gates from the Aquitaine Boston group, that has various restaurants in the South end, believes the new program the Boston Health Department is putting out is not really a solution to a current problem.
“We have not had an issue with healthy restaurants here in Boston, and I’ve lived here about 30 years now,” said Gates.
He said there hasn’t been an issue exempt for at a national chain and that happened around the country. But, he has no qualms with having to post the grades.
“All of us want to enhance the experience of our guests and by making our guests know how clean it is I don’t know how that will be a problem?” said Gates. “It will better all of our operations.”
Gates said he is happy about the proactive involvement of both the city of Boston and the ISD with talking to restaurant owners on how to best make the letter grading posting happen.
“I love this city. I went to college here almost 40 years ago and I never left,” Gates said. “I’m very proud we can get together to make it stronger industry.”
Bob Luz the CEO of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association said they didn’t think this was a necessary step either because they already have a strong procedure that works now and is transparent to the public.
To search the current inspections residents can visit the Mayor’s Food Court online.
“The reason why we get a little nervous because it affects the 50 to 60 employees who work there,” said Luz. “If it scores a B guests might determine they don’t want to eat there.”
A score that is a B Luz explains can mean a number of things including something as small as leaving a disinfectant on top of a cutting board or having a non-working thermometer in a working refrigerator.
“It’s a snapshot in time,” said Luz. “It’s not reviewing the day in and day out 24/7 operations.”
He added that restaurants pay a lot of money towards making their restaurant attractive and by putting a B rating in the front it takes it all away.
Luz said, the city, the restaurateurs, and the guests all want the same thing: to have a healthy safe environment.
For Dave Andelman the CEO of Phantom Gourmet, a television program that features profiles of New England in an e-mail stated, “This public shaming system is typical of the class discrimination directed toward hard working restaurant employees.”
He continued, “Do we publicly grade law firms, accounting firms, and government agencies? A restaurant either meets code and is allowed to stay open or fails to meet code and it’s forced to close.”
Frank DePasquale who owns multiple restaurants throughout Boston is concerned about the new storefront postings of the grades that might deter customers if the restaurant gets anything other than an A. Otherwise he said, by getting an A rating it might actually help business.
DePasquale said it takes many years and a lot of money to perfect a restaurant to be rated by inspectors he is unsure of.
“To destroy something we worked so hard on is not fair.”
But he said, “My restaurants aren’t going to get anything but an A because my restaurants are immaculate.”